it’s a battle!

The desert, as the name would imply, is a pretty hot and dry place. Dubai in the summer months (like at the moment) is an oven. Highs some days over 50°C – often combined with 50 or 80% humidity – makes it a tough place for life. And it’s especially hard for stray animals, and gardens.

We had an Arabian cat move into our garage about 2 months ago. A lovely, friendly little guy with a massive purr, one of several displaced from the labour camp nearby when they tore it down and moved all the labourers away (his friends and carers). So he arrived with a humongous appetite. We fed him and took him to the vet to be sterilised, and he seemed quite happy. Every time we did our kettle-bell class in the garden he would follow us, meow a little and purr a lot, happy to have some company.


[Larry in our garage]

As the summer progressed he slept a lot more as it became hotter and hotter in our garage (we had the doors open for maximum airflow but the air itself is scaldingly hot). I was wetting tea towels and putting them into the fridge to make them cold so that he had something cool to lie on for a while. Wetting the bricks also served as a basic form of air-conditioning, and at least he was out of the sun. Not ideal, but he was ok. You may wonder why I didn’t just bring him inside, right? Well two reasons – Harry and William, my two very spoilt and rather unfriendly (to other cats that is) ginger toms. Trust me I would have done it in a heartbeat if I could. And of course Larry (we christened him Sir Laurence of Arabia) was pretty keen to come inside himself. He would sit on the front-door threshold and cry, greet every delivery person / maid / gardener and the like that walked up the path (they were all rather bemused by the feline escort). He would get into fights at night protecting his bowl of biscuits from other strays, one bad one that landed him in the vet’s for a week with three abscesses – I think he secretly enjoyed the vet’s due to the attention and cool living quarters. All the while, I felt guiltier and guiltier about leaving him out there. Fate happily intervened in the form of a human angel – a friend of mine mentioned she was thinking about getting a cat – well I pounced, spamming her with photos of him at his cutest. They came to meet him and loved him on site (no real surprise) and he had a new home. Boy was it in the nick of time; this week has been over 48 degrees some days.


[Larry in cat heaven!]

However of course there are many cats here that aren’t so lucky, and live forever as strays and ferals. Feline Friends and other organisations work tirelessly to trap, neuter and release (TNR) them to keep the numbers down, as there are no shelters or RSPCA facilities in most of the Emirates. It’s a losing battle really as the Dubai Municipality routinely rounds them up and destroys them (supposed to be only un-sterilised strays that are caught but it seems they are not honouring this arrangement). There is a family of black and white strays that live up the road from us at Motor City (near the supermarket). Some of the cats have already been neutered, but the one female is proving very wily and keeps having litters of adorable kittens. Unfortunately, an individual with the management company has decided that these cats are “pests” and should therefore be destroyed without further ado, even if they are sterilised (you can tell very easily if they have been done – the vets cut the top off one ear when they do the procedure). So we (myself and a few concerned people) have started a petition and facebook page to prove to this person that they are not considered pests by most of the residents and shopkeepers, and that there are people in the community who care about them and want to help. In fact destroying feral cats is NOT the best way to deal with them as many countries have already realised. Abu Dhabi and Sharjah have now implemented this policy instead of wanton destruction, lets hope Dubai will follow suit.

How Does TNR Help Feral Cats?

Through TNR, feral cats can live out their lives without adding to the homeless cat population. “It is very important to have all feral cats spayed/neutered, because it is the only 100-percent effective way to prevent unwanted kittens,” says Aimee Hartmann, Director of the ASPCA Mobile Clinic. “Feral cats are prolific reproducers.”

Furthermore, by stabilizing the population, cats will naturally have more space, shelter and food, and fewer risks of disease. After being spayed or neutered, cats living in colonies tend to gain weight and live healthier lives. Spayed cats are less likely to develop breast cancer and will not be at risk for ovarian or uterine cancer, while neutered males will not get testicular cancer. By neutering male cats, you also reduce the risk of injury and infection, since intact males have a natural instinct to fight with other cats. Spaying also means female cats do not go into heat and therefore they attract less tom cats to the area and reduce fighting. If cats are sterilised and live in a colony that has a caretaker, their life span may reach more than ten years.

How Does TNR Benefit the Community?

TNR helps the community by stabilizing the population of the feral colony and, over time, reducing it. At the same time, nuisance behaviours such as spraying, loud noise and fighting are largely eliminated and no more kittens are born. Yet, the benefit of natural rodent control is continued. Jesse Oldham, ASPCA’s Senior Administrative Director for Community Outreach and the founder of Slope Street Cats, an organization dedicated to feral cat welfare, notes, “TNR also helps the community’s animal welfare resources by reducing the number of kittens that would end up in their shelters—TNR creates more space for the cats and kittens who come to them from other avenues.”

from the ASPCA website

The other thing that struggles here is plants. As I have mentioned before everything has to be irrigated if it’s to survive the heat and basically non-existent rainfall. Gardens as we know and love them in other countries take an enormous amount of care; and investment in fertilizer, water and time. Our lawn has started dying – great big patches of dead grass have appeared seemingly at random. Very frustrating as it’s watered every day, but reading up online it seems maybe this is too much and now we have some dreaded fungal infection. Add to that the flowers in the front bed don’t seem to get an equal amount of water (the dumba** who did the garden put everything on one zone so there is not enough pressure) and they too are dying, whilst somehow the weeds (that the gardener does not see) thrive! Maybe I should just plant weeds instead and be done with it!


[our very sad lawn]

Any ideas?

Animal Rescue

If you would like to contribute a few dollars towards my TNR work with stray cats I would be most grateful

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